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Menachem Begin was prime minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983. He was the co-recipient of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.
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Menachem Begin was born on August 16, 1913, in Brest-Litovsk, Poland (now Russia). He was prime minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983 and the co-recipient, with Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace. Begin mounted an invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to oust the Palestine Liberation Organization. Civilian deaths during this conflict turned world opinion against Israel. Begin resigned office in 1983. He died in 1992.
"Israel will not transfer Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District to any foreign sovereign authority, [because] of the historic right of our nation to this land, [and] the needs of our national security, which demand a capability to defend our State and the lives of our citizens."
"You know what I have done, and what all of us have done, to prevent war and bereavement. But our fate is that in the Land of Israel there is no escape from fighting in the spirit of self-sacrifice. Believe me, the alternative to fighting is Treblinka, and we have resolved that there would be no Treblinkas. This is the moment in which courageous choice has to be made. The criminal terrorists and the world must know that the Jewish people have a right to self-defense, just like any other people."
One of the most recognizable Israeli prime ministers, Menachem Wolfovitch Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk, Poland (no Russia), on August 16, 1913, although it was then part of czarist Russia. During the two world wars, official rule of the region was often in a state of flux.
Begin was the youngest of three children born to Hassia and Ze'ev Dov Begin, a timber merchant and devoted Zionist. The boy's early schooling in the movement impelled him to make his first speech at age 10. As a teenager he joined the Zionist Revisionists' youth movement, Betar, becoming the organization's head by 25, after earning a law degree from the University of Warsaw.
During World War II, he fled Warsaw, obtaining a visa to go to Palestine. But he gave it to a friend whom he thought would have more difficulty. His wife, Aliza, carried on to Palestine, but Begin was arrested by the Russians and sent to a Siberian labor camp for being a Zionist and perhaps a spy.
He was released in 1941 via an agreement between the Soviet Union and the Polish government-in-exile, which freed 1.5 million Poles. His father had been killed by the Nazis, but Begin was able to locate his sister, and from there joined the Free Polish Army, which took him to Palestine. Once there, he was conscripted by the British army as an interpreter, having learned English listening to the BBC radio broadcasts.
But after 1943, he became commander of the Irgun underground, determined to establish a Jewish homeland on both sides of the Jordan River.
The militant group's goal was to gain their independence, often purchasing weapons and explosives from the Arabs. This led British authorities to put a $50,000 bounty on the "grim-faced, bespectacled Menachem Begin['s]" head. After Israel was established in 1948, Begin transformed his group into the Freedom (Herut) Party, which mostly held last place in Parliamentary elections. But by the 1956 war with Egypt, Begin's party was in second place.
By 1967, Begin joined the National Unity government and in 1970 became joint chairman of the "Unity" (Likud) coalition. When the Likud Party won a national election in May 1977, Begin formed a government.
Begin was adamant about retaining occupied territories and in 1975 balked at U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's "telling us to trade territory for legitimacy."
Although he began his prime ministry with a militant stance, Begin learned to compromise, including appointing opponents like Moshe Dayan to his Cabinet. In time, he did give up the Sinai Peninsula and other Jewish settlements in return for peace with Egypt, making a distinction between territories within biblical Israel and those outside it, such as Sinai.
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